Liberty Tavern not so keen on liberty

Virginia Governor Tim Kaine is predictably pushing once again for a comprehensive statewide smoking ban. Not so predictably, he’s teamed up with the owners of Clarendon’s Liberty Tavern to launch his campaign:

This year, he believes momentum is on his side. At a news conference Tuesday at a Clarendon tavern, Kaine said the public is increasingly supportive of such bans…

Stephen Fedorchak, owner of The Liberty Tavern, the restaurant where Kaine held his news conference, said he has been in the business long enough to know smoking was once entrenched in bars and restaurants. But those days have passed, he said.

He said he does not regret the decision to ban smoking in his restaurant and said these days “smokers are somewhat used to going out in a … fresh-air environment” and no longer assume they will be allowed to light up.

I was something of a regular at Liberty when it opened in 2007 and nearly became an employee (they offered me a job, but I wasn’t comfortable with the time commitment). It was an unofficial home for many libertarian-minded people in the area and was among the handful of bars I revisited when back in town last month. That, however, was my last beer there. I sent them the following letter this afternoon:

I was disappointed to hear today that Liberty Tavern is teaming up with Governor Kaine to push for a statewide smoking ban. I’m happy that you’ve chosen to make your business smokefree and have found customers who welcome the clean air. You’ve set an admirable example for other Virginia businesses. So please, leave them free to try it on their own. It’s a sad irony that a place called the “Liberty Tavern” is now attempting to force its policy onto every other bar and restaurant in the state.

Though I’ve enjoyed the food and drink at your bar in the past, I value my freedom of choice even more. From now on when I’m in Virginia I’ll be exercising mine at Arlington’s many other worthwhile establishments.

Their email address is info@thelibertytavern.com. Take a minute to let them know how you feel.

For an alternative bar, try out EatBar and Tallula if you haven’t already been. Liberty Tavern’s only real advantage over this nearby competitor is proximity to the Metro. EatBar’s food is the equal or better of anything at Liberty, the beer selection is bigger and better, the wine list is far larger, and the crowd features fewer lame young professionals. Even if you don’t like the fact that they allow smoking in the small back room, you can appreciate that they don’t think every other restaurant in Virginia should be forced to do the same.

One other note on the proposed ban: Kaine is always careful to refer to this as a ban on smoking in “restaurants.” Technically, that’s true. That’s because there is no such thing as a bar in Virginia. According to ABC regulations, all businesses that serve on-premise alcohol are required to sell significant amounts of food. Casual listeners are likely to interpret the proposal as a supposedly reasonable restriction on restaurants that leaves bars free to set their own policies. It’s hard to view his word choice as anything but intentionally misleading. Since what he’s really pushing is a smoking ban in all businesses, he should say so directly.

Update 1/7/09: Thanks to Radley Balko, former bartender and former smoker Jonathan Blanks, and Suetonius at Freedom and Shit for spreading the word. Good job!

Update 1/8/09: And now David Boaz at the Cato blog, Andrew Roth at the Club for Growth, and Caleb Brown at Catallaxy.

Update 1/9/09: Fr33 Agents threw in with the boycott, leading to coverage this morning at Washington City Paper’s blog.

Previously:
Don’t need no stinkin’ bans!

Bans across the pond

With several smoking bans just going into effect in the US and debates over proposed bans going on throughout the country, it’s worth revisiting the question of how they impact businesses. (You didn’t really think I was finished with ban posts for the week, did you?) The US has fared decently well thanks to growth in the hospitality industry obscuring the losses in bars that have suffered; whether that will continue in the down economy remains to be seen. The Financial Times‘ Matthew Engel notes that pubs have been hit much harder in the UK and Ireland:

In Britain, where smoking in enclosed public places became totally illegal in 2007, beer sales are down by 10 per cent; analysts attribute half of that to the smoking law. Pubs are now closing at a record rate of 36 a week.

The publicans I talk to (and they have plenty of time to chat these days) have many complaints but the loss of the smokers is top of their list. Some are on the pavement, but most stay at home. Pool tables stand empty; darts leagues wither.

This may not be so noticeable in the cities. The pubs that are closing are mainly small and often rural, precisely the places that are crucial to their communities and that tourist boards witter on about. Big city drinking barns survive; gastropubs may thrive. The inns of Olde England face extinction, killed by the well-meaning.

My own village local is thought likely to go under this year. It is hard to imagine, under current conditions, that more than a handful of traditional pubs – as opposed to thinly disguised restaurants – will be left in the English countryside 10 years hence…

I hardly ever smoked in pubs myself. Nor does anyone else now. They do not drink in them either. Brilliant.

I worry that the same will happen in Oregon, Iowa, Illinois, and other states with far-reaching bans. The urban bars will likely weather the change. The smaller rural and neighborhood bars I’m not so sure of.

As noted here before, Portland’s restaurants are in for a tough season. The end of 2008 was pretty terrible:

Observers can’t remember a worse year for Portland restaurants. In the first two months of 2008, seven restaurants closed, four as part of the implosion of the overextended N.W. Hayden Enterprises. The year ends with the fall of Lucier — the $4 million South Waterfront showcase — ringing in our ears. In between, more than 20 Portland restaurants shut their doors…

“I’ve heard some people say their business has dropped by as much as 40 percent in the last month or so,” says Bill Perry of the Oregon Restaurant Association. “Things weren’t too bad until October — sales were off just 4 percent or so over the year — but then, two or three weeks before the election, things just froze. I’ve never seen anything like this; if we want to avoid a big rut in January, people are going to have to begin spending again.”

Perry says January’s increase in the minimum wage from $7.95 to $8.40 per hour will be another blow, especially in tough times, when raising menu prices could further empty dining rooms. “They really won’t have much choice,” he says, “but to let people go or cut their hours.” [...]

Effects ripple through the community. Oregon lost 1,900 restaurant jobs in September and October, and suppliers are left with unpaid bills and dwindling orders.

[Links via Andrew Stuttaford and the excellent Oregon Economics blog, recently recommended by Maureen Ogle.]

Don’t need no stinkin’ bans!

Chad sends in a blog post noticing that Arlington, VA bars and restaurants are trending smokefree in the absence of legislation:

They said Arlington’s bars would never voluntarily go smoke-free … then Liberty Tavern did and places like Eleventh, Union Jacks, and Clarendon Grill soon followed.

They said sports bars would never go smoke-free … then Summers created a separate smoke-free bar, followed by Four Courts and Crystal City Sports Pub, and Thirsty Bernie’s opened entirely smoke-free.

Now Arlington’s best diner, Bob & Edith’s at Columbia Pike & S. Wayne St., is going 100% smoke-free.

Arlington makes an interesting test case. It’s one of the wealthiest, most liberal cities in the country, and residents would surely approve a smoking ban if they were allowed to. Fortunately they’re restrained by Virginia law that forbids local anti-smoking ordinances to exceed the state’s own rules. Every year a statewide ban is introduced in the senate and immediately shot down by the tobacco-friendly house.

The fact that popular bars and established restaurants are voluntarily choosing to restrict smoking shows that ban opponents have been right all along: given demand for smokefree environments, profit-seeking business owners will eventually provide them, if not as immediately as a legislative ban would. And as someone who generally prefers bars with clean air, I think that’s fantastic — as long as dive bars like Jay’s or the backroom cigar lounge at EatBar remain free to set their own policies too.

The same has been true in Portland, another city one might have expected to institute a smoking ban long ago. Even before the statewide ban went into effect last week I noticed there were far more smokefree bars here than in other places I’ve lived. I checked the directory at SmokeFreeOregon.com and the site listed more than 400 establishments within the city limits. That was hardly a lack of choice for non-smokers.

At best, one could make the case for nudging businesses to go smokefree with one-time tax breaks to speed up adoption of the policy. Otherwise, leave people free to associate on their own terms and they’ll eventually figure out ways to accommodate each other. There’s no need for coercion.

Previously:
The magic of politics
Why aren’t more bars smokefree?

More lazy tobacco reporting

I know, I know, you guys don’t come here just to read posts about tobacco regulation. We’ve got some non-smoking content coming soon. But first, this:

Parents who smoke often open a window or turn on a fan to clear the air for their children, but experts now have identified a related threat to children’s health that isn’t as easy to get rid of: third-hand smoke.

That’s the term being used to describe the invisible yet toxic brew of gases and particles clinging to smokers’ hair and clothing, not to mention cushions and carpeting, that lingers long after second-hand smoke has cleared from a room. The residue includes heavy metals, carcinogens and even radioactive materials that young children can get on their hands and ingest, especially if they’re crawling or playing on the floor.

Doctors from MassGeneral Hospital for Children in Boston coined the term “third-hand smoke” to describe these chemicals in a new study that focused on the risks they pose to infants and children. The study was published in this month’s issue of the journal Pediatrics…

Dr. Philip Landrigan, a pediatrician who heads the Children’s Environmental Health Center at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, said the phrase third-hand smoke is a brand-new term that has implications for behavior.

“The central message here is that simply closing the kitchen door to take a smoke is not protecting the kids from the effects of that smoke,” he said. “There are carcinogens in this third-hand smoke, and they are a cancer risk for anybody of any age who comes into contact with them.”

Among the substances in third-hand smoke are hydrogen cyanide, used in chemical weapons; butane, which is used in lighter fluid; toluene, found in paint thinners; arsenic; lead; carbon monoxide; and even polonium-210, the highly radioactive carcinogen that was used to murder former Russian spy Alexander V. Litvinenko in 2006. Eleven of the compounds are highly carcinogenic.

Are blankets in your home killing your baby? Is your jacket radioactive? These sound like the kind of hyped teasers you’d see on local TV news, but this is from New York Times reporter Roni Caryn Rabin. Note that, as usual, there’s no source in the article to counter that these researchers might be going a bit overboard in their claims. But worse is that the article gives so much credence to the study itself. How was it conducted?

The study reported on attitudes toward smoking in 1,500 households across the United States… The data was collected in a national random-digit-dial telephone survey done between September and November 2005. The sample was weighted by race and gender, based on census information.

That’s right, the study did no epidemiological research whatsoever. It consisted entirely of phoning up random people and asking them what they believe about the dangers of tobacco smoke. For this they received completely uncritical coverage in one of the nation’s best newspapers and a chance to repeat their sweeping claims about “third-hand smoke.” As long as scientists say bad things about tobacco, it seems that they can literally just make stuff up and expect compliant reporters to hype their findings.

The authors do cite one other study that claims a link between exposure to ambient chemicals from tobacco smoke and lower cognitive performance in children, though there are reasons to doubt the results. And good parents probably shouldn’t swaddle their babies in blankets that reek of tobacco smoke. But given that smokers spend decades inhaling cigarette smoke directly into their lungs before major health problems set in, it’s going to require very rigorous findings to conclude that simply having smoky clothing in the same room as a child is harmful. The study here doesn’t even make an attempt.

The worst aspect of these doctors’ propaganda is that it will be used to further demonize smokers. Just as non-smokers who used to view brief exposure to secondhand smoke as a mere annoyance now believe it takes years off their lives, casual readers of this article will believe that being caught in an elevator with a person who smells like smoke is going to turn them into Alexander Litvinenko. Mothers and fathers who take the utmost care to smoke only far away from their children will be shunned as bad parents for smoking at all. It will no longer be enough for smokers to stand outside in the cold and rain 25 feet from any door or window; the mere aromatic evidence that one has been smoking will become an affront to civilized society.

I’m going to go ahead and complete the circle by coining my own term: fourth-hand smoke. That’s the first-hand smoke you’re exposed to when you’re so annoyed by society’s growing nannyism that you take up smoking just out of spite. My first cigarette (of very few) was lit in protest of DC’s smoking ban several years ago. I’m sure there are others whose rebellion has drawn them to their very first taste of tobacco. Maybe I’ll call up some random people and see if they feel the same way. New York Times coverage will be right around the corner.

[Big thanks to Rumors Daily for the link. See also the take at TennesseeFree, thanks to Chad.]

Lazy reporting and the Pueblo ban study

The Centers for Disease Control have issued a new report about the impact of the smoking ban in Pueblo, Colorado. The study has the media breathlessly repeating claims that the ban dramatically saves lives. “A smoking ban caused heart attacks to drop by more than 40 percent in one U.S. city and the decrease lasted three years, federal health experts reported Wednesday,” writes Reuters reporter Maggie Fox, who doesn’t bother quoting any dissenting sources. Mary Engle at the LA Times health blog says uncritically that whatever the mechanism behind the fall in heart attacks, “Pueblo’s smoking ban can take the credit.” Bill Scanlon at the Rocky Mountain News throws science to the wind and extrapolates that Colorado will see a statewide “sharp decline” in heart attacks in 2009 — more than two years after its ban went into effect.

I realize times are tough in newsrooms, but there’s no excuse for such biased, lazy reporting. Journalists should treat the claims of ideologically driven anti-smoking groups with just as much skepticism as they would junk science coming from big tobacco companies.

Since the CDC’s report is going to be cited constantly by smoking ban advocates it’s worth taking a look at its methodology and limitations. Fortunately it’s straightforward enough that any moderately intelligent person can understand it. The following is my layman’s reading of the results, with the caveat that I’m approaching this without formal training. Nonetheless, it’s clear that one shouldn’t take this study’s conclusions at face value. Its use by anti-smoking groups, researchers, and the press to promote smoking bans is a case study in the abuse of science for political ends.
[Read more...]

Beer of the year

The Baltimore Sun’s Rob Kasper asks for people’s nominees for 2008 beer of the year, with Rob staying local and suggesting Clipper City Winter Storm, Flying Dog Gonzo Imperial Porter and Brewer’s Art Resurrection. For me it’s Goose Island’s Bourbon County Brand Stout. Here’s how brewer Greg Hall describes it:

I really wanted to do something special for our 1000th batch at the original brewpub. Goose Island could have thrown a party. But we did something better. We brewed a beer. A really big batch of stout—so big, the malt was coming out of the top of the mash tun. After fermentation, we brought in some bourbon barrels that aged the stout. One hundred days later, Bourbon County Stout was born. A liquid as dark and dense as a black hole with thick foam the color of a bourbon barrel. The nose is an intense mix of charred oak, chocolate, vanilla, caramel and smoke. One sip has more flavor than your average case of beer. It overpowers anything in the room. People have even said it’s a great cigar beer. But I have yet to try a cigar that can stand up.

I haven’t tried it with a cigar, but it really is an amazing beer. It’s thick as tobacco spit (in a good way), with the bubbles just barely there at the edge of the glass. Incredible flavor and 13% abv. It won’t be available much longer, but if you love big, dark beers and can still find it on shelves it’s definitely worth checking out.

In other beer news, 2008 ended on a good note for those of us who lament the growing nanny state. The big brewery-funded Portman Group backed down from its allegations that Orkney Skull Splitter Ale sported a “violent” label and that BrewDog’s Punk IPA, Riptide, and Hop Rocker were also inappropriate. Skull Splitter’s an old favorite and Punk IPA’s a solid ale too, so I’m glad to see they fought back and preserved their brands.

One more reason to skip Utah bars

Oregon’s not the only state that put a smoking ban into effect today:

Bars in Utah smell different – a lot less smoky. Utah’s Indoor Clean Air Act – better known as the smoking ban – is now in effect.

On Wednesday, the inside of some Utah bars were filled with cigarettes and smoke. But on this first day of 2009 something’s not in the air. The cigarettes are still out due to habit but gone are the plumes of smoke.

To be honest, this is one smoking ban I just can’t get upset about. I would have thought Utah had banned smoking a long time ago. And people actually go to the bars there? Talk about burying the lede!

Previously:
Utah, future home of the Vieux Carré

The last smoker

This is a fantastic photo: regulars at the Horse Brass Pub recreate “The Last Supper” with long-haired publican Don Younger filling in for Jesus. There’s no Judas here, just a gathering of loyal friends. Judas would be the Oregonians not pictured because they wouldn’t enter the pub while people smoked there, selling out one of their city’s legendary bar owners so they can drink Don’s beer under their own rules.

[Photo by Aaron Barnard, Vanished Twin Photography, via Willamette Week.]

Saying hello to my new Oregon neighbors

I’m in the Oregonian today, calling BS on the idea that our upcoming statewide smoking ban is motivated by an interest in saving workers’ lives. If the response is anything like that to my previous anti-ban column, there’s a lot of hate mail and nasty comments headed this way and to the Oregonian website. That’s fine, I’m happy to receive criticism. But before you hit send, make sure you’re not saying what we’ve all heard many times before:

Secondhand tobacco smoke is dangerous! — I agree. Chronic, extended exposure to environmental tobacco smoke has been shown to correlate with moderately greater health risks. But if you think the guy smoking next to you in a restaurant is shaving years off your life, you’re going way beyond what’s scientifically plausible.

Smoking shouldn’t be allowed in public buildings! — I agree. Courthouses, public hospitals, police stations, and similar places could all justifiably ban smoking. You could even make a case for banning smoking on common carriers like railroads and buses. But a privately owned bar? That’s a competitive business, not a public building. If you don’t like the atmosphere you don’t have to go.

Smoking bans are just like any other workplace safety regulation! — Most safety regulations don’t ban jobs entirely, as we’re now banning working in a smoke-friendly bar. Nor do we need to protect bar workers from hidden risks; if anything, the dangers of secondhand smoke are exaggerated. Given the high rates of turnover in the hospitality industry, there’s no reason employees can’t decide for themselves whether to keep working in smoke-filled rooms.

Smokers can just step outside — In the Oregon winter? Cigarette smokers, maybe. Pipe and cigar smokers? Not my idea of high fun. For many of us, bartenders included, the ban will kill a bar culture we know and love. Besides, you’re just going to ban it outside next (see Boston, San Luis Obispo, Calabasas, Belmont, etc.).

I shouldn’t have to suffer smokers when I go out! — Then go to places that don’t allow smoking. Or, as I mentioned in the column, pass legislation that’s less restrictive than the ban but that would still encourage businesses to go smokefree. Shouldn’t smokers have places to go too?

But the one place I really want to go allows smoking! — Yeah, that sucks. Try complaining to the management. If enough people say something they might change their policy. Or maybe they won’t. Remember, the world doesn’t revolve around you. (Unless you’re William Shatner, in which case the world does revolve around you, and can I have your autograph?)

Smoking has made you bald! — Uh, no. That’s just some unfortunate photo cropping on the Oregonian website. My mane’s still doing pretty well, thank you.

Got something to add that’s not on the list? Now you can hit send.

A Repeal Day for the ages

Free to Booze Bar

With the end of December almost here, it doesn’t look like I’m going to get to that big Repeal Day wrap-up I had planned. Luckily Tom Pearson’s all over it with Repeal Day and post-Repeal Day entries, so check over at his site for the links. See also Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s adventures in DC and “libertarian kind of guy” Lance Mayhew’s thoughtful reflections about Prohibition and the growth of government.

I was in DC too, kicking off the day at Cato’s Free to Booze event. I wasn’t able to watch the forum, being too busy setting up the bar in the lobby and teaching the interns some practical skills like how to juice citrus for 200 people. Thanks to their help, spirit donations from DISCUS, and a very last minute purchase of sweet vermouth, Jeff and I were able to mix up some tasty vintage cocktails for the thirsty mob. Here’s what we served:

Manhattan: Bulleit Bourbon, Sweet Vermouth, and Angostura Bitters
One of the first uses of vermouth in a cocktail and a true classic to this day

Martinez: Beefeater or Tanqueray Gin, Sweet Vermouth, Maraschino Liqueur, and Orange Bitters
Forgotten cousin of the Dry Martini, also born of America’s love affair with vermouth

Sidecar: Hennessy VS Cognac, Cointreau, and Lemon
An early mix of spirit, orange liqueur, and citrus, a versatile combination enjoyed today in the Margarita and Cosmopolitan

Aviation: Beefeater or Tanqueray Gin, Lemon, Maraschino, and Crème de Violette
A beautiful classic regaining popularity thanks to new imports of violet liqueur

Stone Fence: Maker’s Mark Bourbon, Cider, Angostura Bitters
Ethan Allen’s Green Mountain Boys drank a rustic version of this drink before storming Fort Ticonderoga. What are you gonna do?

Sazerac: Hennessy VS Cognac, Pernod aux extraits de plantes d’absinthe, Peychaud’s Bitters, Angostura Bitters, and Sugar
Vintage New Orleans cocktail; though originally made with cognac, rye whiskey became standard in the 1870s

Pegu Club: Beefeater or Tanqueray Gin, Cointreau, Lime, Orange Bitters, and Angostura Bitters
A refreshing gin drink published in Harry Craddock’s Savoy Cocktail Book (1930) and credited to the Pegu Club in Burma

Jeff and I had a great time making the drinks. I hadn’t worked a busy bar shift since leaving Open City in March, so getting back into the groove and working through a long line of orders felt great. One of my favorite moments of the night was informing a person who ordered a vodka tonic that we had neither vodka nor tonic. Working with a limited bar and a small menu let us put the focus on introducing people to new experiences and I think we opened a few eyes to well-crafted cocktails.

If you missed the Cato event, it’s too late to make you a drink but you can catch video of the policy forum online. Organizer Brandon Arnold also recorded a podcast for the occasion.

Following a nice dinner with friends, I went off to DC Craft Bartenders Guild’s fantastic Repeal Day celebration, featuring drinks from some of the DC’s best mixologists. Then we took the afterparty to Gibson, the new speakeasy off U St. As Jeff notes, some of these speakeasy themed bars stand on ceremony to the point of inconvenience. At one I watched the host make a woman search her Blackberry for her forgotten codeword before granting entrance, despite the fact that every table but my own was unoccupied. There’s none of that nonsense at Gibson. There the focus is entirely on serving wonderful drinks in a comfortable, relaxed environment. And the drinks really are excellent. If you’re in DC, it’s absolutely worth visiting. I just wish it had opened before I moved across the country.

This Repeal Day will be hard to top, but the 100th anniversary is just 25 years away. It’s hard to predict what will happen then. Perhaps there will be blowback against the nanny state’s current excesses. Maybe we’ll finally overturn some of our outdated alcohol distribution laws. Given all the momentum in the craft movement right now, I’m hopeful we’ll see even broader interest in mixology and be closer to overcoming Prohibition’s legacy of crap cocktails. Whatever happens, we’re going to have one hell of a party.

Crackdowns on the white stuff

A raw milk arrest in CA:

A milk processing plant near Santa Paula was shut down last week after allegedly selling dairy products without a license or pasteurization, authorities said Friday.

Sharon Ann Palmer, 48, was arrested in connection with the plant called Healthy Family Farms at 6780 Wheeler Canyon Road, Ventura County Sheriff’s Department officials said in a prepared statement.

Members of the department’s Agricultural Crimes Unit and other local health agencies began an investigation of Palmer in the first week of December and found she was operating the plant without a license and selling potentially unpasteurized milk products at farmers’ markets in Ventura, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles counties, according to the statement.

And in other California news, Organic Pastures Dairy, whose case I profiled for Reason, has had to accept a plea with the feds and cease selling unpasteurized milk across state lines. 2008′s final days continue to show that this is a terrible year for raw milk producers and consumers.

Speaking of jumping sharks…

It’s too bad Michael Siegel is on vacation right now. I’m sure he’d have some choice words to say about this:

A coalition of health organizations honored two Helena doctors Monday, saying their work has helped lead to states and countries around the world acting to ban smoking in public buildings.

Dr. Robert Shepard and Dr. Richard Sargent were honored for their work by Protect Montana Kids, a coalition of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the American Heart Association and the American Lung Association of the Northern Rockies…

They also conducted a study that found that Helena’s heart-attack rate dropped 40 percent for the period when the ordinance was in effect and rose back to previous rates when the ban was later overturned…

“There are some criticisms of the study,” [Kristin Page-Nei, Montana government relations director for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network] said. “We felt this would be a good time to point out where the flaws in the criticism are.”

“Some criticisms” is an understatement. The study used a very small sample to draw wildly implausible conclusions about how quickly a smoking ban might reduce the number of heart attacks. Its ongoing citation by anti-smoking groups is one of the things that drives ban opponents and respectable tobacco researchers like Siegel up the wall. Granting this award demonstrates that these organizations value studies more for their propaganda value than their scientific credibility.

For critical background on the study, here’s Jacob Sullum, Dave Hitt, and of course Michael Siegel.

MI smoking ban defeated

Three cheers for deadlock! The Michigan Legislature once again failed to pass a statewide smoking ban. Unfortunately the reasons have nothing to do with respect for business owners, employees, and smokers. The two houses just can’t come to an agreement about whether to ban smoking everywhere or to allow exemptions in casinos, cigar bars, horse tracks, and bingo parlors. It’s a familiar pattern with smoking bans: states carve out exemptions for gambling establishments that bring in millions of dollars in tax revenue while not offering any relief to bar owners who would be similarly affected. Michigan’s lawmakers are divided by those who want to ban smoking everywhere and those who want to hypocritically allow it only in businesses the state has a stake in — a temporary win for liberty, but not one that’s likely to last.

Previously:
Smoking ban unfair, insulting

The year in banning

Bans are the new black. The good folks at Reason.tv put together this video about bans and attempted bans in 2008. Via Radley:

If you’re wondering about the bacon-wrapped hot dogs reference, that’s not a case of fat-obsessed nanny statists going overboard. It is a case of seemingly benign government health regulations making business prohibitively difficult for small entrepreneurs. Reason covered that conflict here.

An Oregon smoking ban prediction

I’m supposed to be in Houston right now. Yesterday my bags were packed and, despite being skeptical that my plane home would depart on time, I trudged my luggage through the freshly fallen snow to the train that would take me to the airport. The train wasn’t running. I checked my phone and now neither was my flight. Thirty minutes on hold with Southwest booked me a new ticket on the 24th and three more days in a paralyzed city.

This is all mildly inconvenient for me, but it’s hell for people in the service industry. December is a vital month for them. Because of the record snowfall — the highest for a Portland December since 1968 — my bartender friends are being told not to come into work. Many places aren’t opening at all. Companies are canceling their Christmas party reservations, taking with them all the revenue they’d promised. Combine this with the national recession and 2008 is turning out to be a glum year for area bars and restaurants.

What does this have to do with smoking bans? Oregon’s goes into effect on January 1. By January 2010, the economic uncertainty we’re facing now will hopefully have subsided. And unless it’s another freak year for weather, December will bring its usual boost to Oregon restaurants. If that happens, smoking ban proponents will be able to cite statistics showing that bar and restaurant business went up after the smoking ban, “proving” that they were right and we who oppose the ban had nothing to worry about.

A similar dynamic played out in New York City in March, 2004, a year after the beginning of its smoking ban. The city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene issued a report showing that the bar and restaurant business had grown in the year following the ban. Critics countered that the study misleadingly conflated bars and restaurants and neglected to account for the economic recovery following the 9/11 attacks.

Who’s right? I don’t know and I don’t care. As I’ve said before, this is a stupid argument. The financial objections to smoking bans aren’t based on how they affect net hospitality industry revenues, but on how they impact individual smoking-oriented businesses. Generalized statistics obscure the impact on bars that can’t get an exemption, lose customers, and justifiably feel like their rights are being trampled upon. It’s cold comfort to tell them to suck it up because, well, at least their competitors are making money.

If 2009 is a decent year for Oregon’s bars and restaurants, I predict that this is the kind of claim we’re going to hear from local ban supporters. I’d like to go on the record now to point out that such crude analysis should be seen for the irrelevant BS it truly is.

Previously:
Pipe down!
Taking the LEED on smoking bans

Not even trying to be principled

I’ve posted a couple links on the sidebar about New York’s new tax frenzy, but hadn’t felt compelled to dedicate a post to it until I saw this:

If the proposed budget were to be approved, New York cigar smokers would be forced to pay 50 cents per cigar. The current tax is about 34 cents.

It used to be that we could have an argument about whether there’s any justification for the tax, whether each cigar really is somehow causing 50 cents worth of external harm. But as Rogier van Bakel notes, this is just one of 137 new or increased taxes proposed by Governor David Paterson and there’s no rhyme or reason to the list. Among the other targeted products and services:

MP3s and other downloads
Haircuts, manicures, and beauty services
Movies, concerts and sporting events
Beer
Non-diet sodas
Gasoline
Clothing and shoes under $500

And many more. When the government abandons all pretense at rationale and just taxes things willy-nilly, I don’t even know how I’m supposed to respond. Luckily, New Yorkers do, and I can guess which finger they’ll be holding up to the governor this year.

[As with most cigar stories, hat tip to the Stogie Guys.]

Worth its weight in smoke

A few days ago I had a debate about smoking bans with a friend who said he’d be perfectly happy to allow smoking if someone invented a smokeless cigar. I haven’t heard of those, but how about a cigar that emits only a fine, sparkling mist of 24 karat gold?

Gold cigar

For now, sadly, this remarkable golden smoke exists only in the world of ridiculous Photoshopping. The gold leaf cigar is real though. For just $94.50 it makes the perfect gift for a friend, provided your friend is an obnoxious James Bond villain.